Interview Analysis: I Love Dawson

As part of the Dawson City Museum Project, I conducted fifteen interviews with people associated with the institution historically and today. Most of the transcripts have been approved. So, my Research Assistant and I are analyzing them now. The Interview Analysis series considers this analysis and the insights people have provided.

Within this post, I consider the love people feel for Dawson City and ask – what role has individual affection for the local community played in the Dawson City Museum’s development?


Interview participants often expressed affection for Dawson City and/or the people who live(d) there. For example, one person noted:

I did fall in love with Dawson.


Most notably, the current Executive Director, Alex Somerville, expressed love in response to multiple questions. Here are two examples:

I started working at the Dawson City Museum in 2011 as a summer student. I had a really great time. I loved living in Dawson. I loved working for the museum.


I’ve worked for the Museum now for ten years, I know the museum well, I obviously love it dearly, and I love Dawson.


Alex also explained that love for Dawson is a theme in historic documents, stating:

In my position working at the Museum, I know that it is a feeling that people have reported at all kinds of different times through the history of the town.

People reported an uncanny attraction to the place in 1898. Laura Burton came to Dawson when it was a very different place in 1907, I think. It was a very different place in 1907 and she reports the same inexplicable attraction.

I wish I knew what it was. I don’t know if anyone does.


A Love for Dawson and the Museum’s Development

Why found a community museum?

Community museums, by definition, reflect affection for their community. They form to tell community stories, which suggests an underlining belief that these stories are worth telling.

In the Dawson City Museum case, the Museum formed with two explicit objectives – that is, to preserve heritage in Yukon and support the budding tourism industry (Source). The tourism industry was seen as a way to sustain the region’s economy, which was suffering due, in part, to deindustrialization (Stuart 1990). A strong desire to serve the community, therefore, underlined the Museum’s founding.

Who comes to the community?

Community museums can struggle to both hire and retain qualified staff. They have relatively small budgets and demand a lot from their executive directors or curators (see Too Much for One Person).

With a budget of less than $400,000 and in a town of fewer than 2,500 people, the Dawson City Museum has retained the same two full time employees since 2014. They both have a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto and were complimented for their work ethic across interviews. Despite relatively low pay and high workload, they have stayed in Dawson. The excerpts from Alex’s interview above help explain why – the place itself attracts people who fall in love and stay. As Alex explained:

There’re just all these really excellent examples of people not planning on moving to Dawson for forever, coming for a summer. It’s a cliche, you know, I came to Dawson for a summer [and] here I am thirty-five years later. It’s just something about this place.



What do you think? Should I consider a love for Dawson City when answering – How has the Dawson City Museum evolved in relation to government policy and community action?

If so, how else does or has affection for the place shaped the Museum?

More broadly, how can and should community be considered when discussing a museum’s evolution?

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